A strong finish with a little help from other teams nearly catapulted the Steelers (8-8) into the playoffs even with a 0-4 start. Thanks Andy Reid and Ryan Succop. An offense that jelled in the second half of the season will return most of its starters. History also favors the Steelers making the playoffs considering they haven’t missed the playoffs three seasons in a row for a long time. That hasn’t happened since before the Mike Tomlin era in 1998-2000. The consensus among experts assigned to the non-playoff teams agrees that the Steelers are positioned to break their two-year absence and return to the playoffs in 2014. The following discussion illustrates why.
Ben Roethlisberger is probably the main reason. Why? He is arguably the best quarterback among the teams that didn’t make the 2013 playoffs and displayed in the latter part of the season that he is still a formidable and effective quarterback. Roethlisberger set a team record for completions in a season with 375 while throwing for 4,261 yards – the second highest total of his career – in leading the Steelers to a 6-2 record in the second half of the season. He will be supported by a running game with Le’Veon Bell, who was a rookie and injured for much of the season, especially in the beginning of the season when everything appeared dismal. Bell showed his versatility out of the backfield catching the ball and picking up pass rushers. In addition, his combined strength, elusiveness, quickness, and speed are attributes the Steelers have been looking for in quite a while. A healthy Bell makes a significant difference.
The 2014 schedule sets up well for the Steelers because they don’t have to travel to the Mountain and Pacific time zones. Since 2007 under Mike Tomlin, the Steelers are 2-7 in those games. At least on paper, their 16 opponents had a combined winning percentage of .469 in 2013, which ranks 23rd among all teams. The Steelers play only six games against teams with winning records last season, with just two of those on the road. As we saw against Tennessee, Minnesota, and Oakland in 2013, there is no gimme in the NFL – parity exists and you can always count on some losing teams to rebound, i.e. Chiefs with a whopping 9-game turnaround. Only seven teams have an easier schedule than the Steelers, but two of them (Browns at .465 and the Ravens at .461) are also in the AFC North and are bitter rivals.
The Steelers also play against the AFC South teams this season, which was a combined 24-40 in 2013 (one playoff team - Colts) and the NFC South, which includes two teams (Falcons and Bucs) that went a combined 8-24.
The status of some veteran players with huge contracts is a factor as well as grabbing a few free agents off the market for some key positions and depth. As history shows, we all know that Colbert will put together a solid draft.
Even though the 2014 season looks promising, Steeler fans should be advised not to start making Super Bowl plans to Arizona.